“The Center of the World Everywhere”: Bamako and the Scene of the Political Scott Durham The viewer

of Bamako (2006) must first of all come to terms with what Abderrahmane Sissako’s uncompromisingly political film refuses from the outset to attempt. For Bamako—which places the policies of the World Bank and the IMF, and their effects on Africa and the global South, squarely within its sights—conforms to none of the most familiar strategies associated with engaged film. The aim of the film is not primarily to defend an identity or to unmask an ideology, whether globalizing or nationalist. It does not attempt an allegorical representation of the global system as a whole, in order to elaborate a “cognitive mapping” of the place of Bamako within it. Nor does Bamako envision, through the unfolding of a singular life story or marginal experience, a utopian or mythic “beyond” of multinational capitalism, which would exceed its geographical, historical or conceptual limits. In this sense, Bamako might be said to reveal nothing that is not already visible: for it neither represents an experience previously inaccessible to us, nor does it offer a synthetic representation of its situation, nor does it refer us to “another scene” that would permit us to understand what is already manifest in light of a repressed or hidden truth. If Bamako would thus seem to offer little to the critic in the way of hermeneutic satisfaction—if, in other words, there would seem to be no truth here to unveil—it is first of all, perhaps, because the “other scene” in question seems to be placed immediately before us. For almost everything there is to see in Bamako is given from the outset, in the simple courtyard of a house in Mali (where the director tells us he himself grew up) that provides the improbable site of a “trial” of international financial institutions. In that trial, we see jurists on both sides of the debate about neoliberal globalization cross-examine intellectuals and experts. We hear arguments for and against the economic policies imposed upon sub-Saharan Africa by technocrats residing in a distant metropole, along with testimony from victims of those policies, who have also been called upon to testify against them. Meanwhile, the habitual occupants of the courtyard go about their everyday routines, as they would on any other day, intermittently interrupting their labors to listen to a particularly eloquent speech, or to register the affective power of an especially moving story of hardship. But these lines of action serve alternately as background or foreground to one another, without either seeming to fundamentally modify or engage the action unfolding in the other. And this is, at least initially, what most fascinates in Bamako: the incongruous coexistence of these two dimensions—the debate over the governance of the global system, and the immediate here-and-now of everyday life—played out before our eyes within a single frame. On the one hand, there is the highly theatrical form of the trial, with its opposing arguments and its clearly defined antagonists, in which the discourse of corporate globalization and its critique are elaborated in the film. On the other hand, there is Sissako’s patient observation, in the neorealist and documentary tradition, of the rhythms of the everyday existence of those inhabiting the courtyard (many of them played by non-professional actors, who “have always lived in the courtyard, and are therefore part of the film”) and the space immediately surrounding it (where the proceedings of the trial are audible through loudspeakers).1 But while he places both of

It is. code or mediating term through which these two perspectives on life within the global system might be rendered commensurate with one another. But. which affects every aspect of their lives. sees as the fundamental asymmetry that defines their role in the global system. as that experience unfolds in the daily rhythms of a life which does not seek to explain or justify itself.world picture 2 them before us in a single space. The inhabitants of Africa and the rest of the global South have no choice but to participate in the international financial system. its solemn proceedings taking place alongside the washing of laundry. the incongruous setting of the trial serves to foreground the impossibility. their case will thus turn on the denunciation of this political and discursive asymmetry between the authority of the globalizing technocrats at these institutions (whose expertise lends legitimacy to the neoliberal project). What are we to make of Sissako’s staging of this nonrelationship? In part. from a political perspective. and without any political or juridical mechanism for holding the engineers of these policies accountable for their failures. where they observe. without any semblance of democratic consent. the nonrelationship between discourses concerning the global system as a whole. of the event staged within it taking place outside the realm of mere political theatre. which calls into question what Sissako. and occasionally interrupt one another. that this trial would be held in such an unassuming place as this courtyard of the director’s childhood. no doubt. Sissako provides no common language. contested here in the language and forms of law and justice. As Sissako himself suggests in a text accompanying the DVD of the film. be it New York. London or the Hague? Indeed. to persist. this asymmetry constitutes the fundamental “wrong” or “tort” (to use Jacques Rancière’s language) to which Sissako’s trial responds. and the massive increases in poverty and infant mortality which have followed—have been imposed by these institutions and their African collaborators upon millions of sub-Saharan Africans in the name of supposedly objective economic necessities outside the scope of legitimate political debate. the neoliberal “structural adjustment policies that set the rules of the game for millions of people”—with their radical dismantling of social services and subsidies. Indeed. But the conditions under which they do so are largely determined by the policies of institutions over which they have little or no effective say. having rarely received its benefits. against all obstacles. even a provocation. the implausible location of the trial never allows us to lose sight of the fact that it is first of all intended as a symbolic act. the dyeing of cloth and the morning ablutions of its residents. are nonetheless condemned to bear that project’s consequences). and the immediate experience of some of those it governs. on the contrary. What initially appears before our eyes in this Malian courtyard is. one is compelled to ask. but only. the nursing of babies. quite unlikely.2 Leaving aside. Paris. and the unacknowledged objections of a population of unwilling “debtors” (who.3 Within the limits of the trial’s 2 . is this setting of the trial any more improbable than would be its enactment in an actual court? Under what circumstances could one imagine officials of the IMF or the World Bank actually being compelled to defend the consequences of their policies in a court in even the most metropolitan of venues. like many other critics of the IMF and World Bank. should the World Bank and IMF ever be put on trial. the specific economic and social content of the claims made by the plaintiffs in the trial. for the moment. Brussels.

What Sissako makes visible in this strangely double space—where the implicit claim of each speaker to equality within “a common world of argument” coexists with the lived experience of inequality. “there were a common world of argument” (52). it is. social and political before being juridical: the dream of a popular justice. but upon its victims. as we have seen. be understood as providing a form for the expression of a collective dream of equality. as I have already suggested. outside the trial. where the masters of global trade and finance would be placed on the same footing as any citizen. a failure of mediation. only intermittently follow the process of the trial. in this sense. the ultimate sentence has already long since been passed by the logic of the global system itself. This dream is. however. To borrow once again the language of Rancière’s La Mésentente. whose failing marriage provides the representation of life in the courtyard with its principle narrative focus— only reinforces our conviction that. this assumption might seem perfectly plausible. For if the possibility of a relationship would seem to be suggested by the juxtaposition of its 3 .world picture 2 mise en scène. in the incommensurability between the generic codes that govern the distinct lines of action that unfold in the space of the courtyard. But. in other words. the critics of neoliberal globalization. If the inhabitants of the courtyard. and the witnesses they call. such as that of the singer Melé and her disintegrating marriage. who. and could thus be held accountable. No verdict that it might pronounce (and the film does not indulge us with the symbolic satisfaction that such a verdict might provide) could be expected to produce an effect outside of the utopian “common world” of its performance. although they are often visibly moved by the power of the victims’ testimony. not upon the accused. the incongruous appearance of this trial in a family compound on the periphery of the global system reminds us that this enactment of even a purely discursive equality can appear in our conjuncture only as theatre. whatever the verdict. the performance of the trial allows those critics to behave “as though […] a stage existed” in which they were recognized as legitimate and equal interlocutors—as though. or that of the young man awaiting death in a room just off the courtyard. first of all presented as a nonrelationship. This failure is initially foregrounded as a problem of aesthetic form. it is perhaps not so much because they have repressed or disavowed the collective wish that this utopian performance might seem to fulfill. And within the confines of a discursive space implicitly defined by the legal fiction of equality before the law. occupy the commanding heights of international trade and finance. the unemployed husband of the bar singer Melé (Aïssa Maïga). speak as though they were on an equal footing with those they accuse. Indeed. without any language. It is as if Sissako were unable or unwilling to find an overarching narrative capable of linking the trial’s theatrical confrontations over the injustices characteristic of the system as a whole to the local stories of the everyday struggle for existence of those who live alongside but outside it. code or narrative capable of “transcoding” (to use Fredric Jameson’s term)4 between them—is thus. the event with which the film concludes—the suicide of Chaka (Tiécoura Traoré). The law could. as because the staging of that wish unfolds within a space—that of their immediate everyday experience—where its fulfillment is as yet unimaginable. first of all. To the extent to which the relationship of this theatre of popular justice to these everyday narratives is presented here.

emblematic of those civil servants deemed superfluous by structural adjustment policies). a supplementary world where alone the elements of the first two can be brought together. which effectively condemn many of them to death. first in the guise of a miraculous rescuer. its postmodern pastiche— appears at a sufficient distance from the world inhabited by Sissako’s courtyard dwellers. that they can respond to the deaths on screen. not with anger or compassion. 4 . This third narrative world—that of the Western. this is the narrative strategy of an important forerunner of Bamako: Djibril Diop Mambéty’s allegorical masterpiece. an earlier attempt to represent the relationship of impoverished Africa to the creditors of the world system.world picture 2 terms. into the generic code of yet another narrative universe. by transposing the two distinct narrative worlds that fail to communicate in the courtyard. Hyenas (1992). an exemplary sketch of an aesthetic strategy that Sissako declines to pursue elsewhere in the film. But it does so only allegorically. even as it promises. which. but into a shared narrative world. This narrative might be said to succeed in representing the connection between the individual sufferings of Africans and the reigning powers in the world financial system. where the allegorical inscription of the actions of an individual or collective character (such as Timbuktu’s marauding gunmen) serves to represent the intervention of a global system (the reach and complexity of which is too vast to be readily imaginable in relation to the existential experience of a single individual or group) within a localizable narrative space.” descends upon the impoverished provincial backwater of Colobane. the former prostitute. as they gun down the inhabitants (notably including a school teacher. and later as the cynical destroyer of this community which. infinite riches to those who will embrace it. This may be taken. is less likely to have access to his films than to the more widely available metropolitan mass-cultural products of the sort that his film-within-a-film allegorically rewrites. which appears from outside to destroy local industry and government. whose only defender is a lone black cowboy (Danny Glover). rather. or. as an implicit satirical commentary on the contradictions inherent in the relationship of African films such as Bamako to the public in a country like Mali. however.6 Indeed. This possibility is. Death in Timbuktu. the realization of that possibility seems to await the story capable of weaving the two. the “African spaghetti Western. realized in one place in Bamako: in the film-within-a-film. at least in part. had once encompassed the whole social world of its inhabitants. Ramatou appears as the mythic incarnation of capital.5 But this interlude of parodic satire also provides. “rich as the World Bank. as well as what remains of traditional ties of reciprocity. as a sort of counterpoint. but with the slyly complicit laughter of postmodern irony. quite explicitly presented as allegorical figures for international capital. because of what Sissako himself describes as an almost non-existent distribution system. not only into a common space.” where the agents of international capital and their African collaborators are represented as a group of marauders visiting a reign of terror on the ancient Malian city. she and her group of acolytes are. from the outset. where they merely coexist. When Mambéty’s Linguère Ramatou. whom we see watching Death in Timbuktu on television. for all its undeniable miseries and injustices. As an allegorical figure. in a carnivalesque send-up of a now global culture of consumerism.

that individual history is representable. as an individual woman. on the other. But unlike Hyenas. As I have already suggested. it begins with this disparity itself as an unsurpassable reality that it must confront. Indeed. comes “like fate” (which is to say. the aesthetic impasse faced by realism in the global system. for its part.7 The power of Mambéty’s film to convey the effects of the global system in terms of individual experience thus turns on the deftness with which he imperceptibly switches gears between these two possible readings of Ramatou’s story—the “global” and the “local”— each of which alternately serves as the explanation of her actions. and her motivations are explicable (without any reference to the “elsewhere” of the global system of which she is the emissary. and. Indeed. Bamako might be said to stage before our eyes the very failure of mediation that Mambéty’s allegorical narrative representation so artfully displaces and contains. In this aspect. at the level of narrative form. even if it is not yet capable of coherently narrating or representing it. since it reflects the pervasive difficulty in the neoliberal era of imagining any role for politics in everyday experience other than that of an outside force which. by itself. Bamako. as it attempts to carry out the seemingly impossible task of representing the logic of an unimaginably vast global totality in and through individual and local experience. if Bamako is also to be read allegorically. with her own history and grievances. For she appears in Colobane both as an oppressed member of the community who has been unjustly cast out (and has returned to that community in order to demand justice from it) and as the embodiment of a world system that. in other words. with the other inhabitants of this particular town. The function of Ramatou’s character within Mambéty’s allegorical narrative is. and in accordance with the conventions of a more classical realism). with the parodic exception of its “African spaghetti Western. 5 . to borrow Nietzsche’s phrase.” it does not seek to elaborate an allegorical narrative frame capable of weaving the global and the local into a single story—it is in part because it refuses to elide the disparity between these two moments of the global system in the name of offering a coherent representation of that system as a whole. it is perhaps best read as an allegory of this very impasse. to the extent to which it attempts a realist representation of the global system. Rather. through non-realist means. the lives of the governed. If Bamako.world picture 2 But this “meaning” of Ramatou. except as the mythic figure of a power from beyond that world. That story is only compelling because it is also that of an individual. at the literal level of the narrative. like Mambéty’s Linguère Ramatou) to impose its “conditionalities” upon us from without. rather than pursuing an aesthetic resolution of this underlying contradiction. as the absolute negation of the world of that community. Whatever the other virtues of this narrative. is not. and thereby make each translatable into the language of the other. this impasse is no less political for being aesthetic. reframes the problem by foregrounding the very disparity that gives rise to it: the nonrelationship between the logic of a totality that determines what it will impose upon society from some transnational elsewhere on the one hand. an attempt to resolve. refuses to attempt a similar resolution of this aesthetic problem— if. as a mythic figure of capital descending upon the village from some global beyond. is unimaginable within it. to mediate between these two poles. entirely in terms of her relationships.8 Hyenas can thus be said to offer. enough to sustain our interest in her story.

until the end of the trial. For this intervention obliges us to ask: in what form. as simultaneously within and outside the discursive space of the trial. But this shift in focus is not without its own formal implications as well. except that of assuming its accumulated debts. one described by Sissako as a language of the country’s south. what had previously appeared as a dilemma of narrative representation—as the impossibility of integrating the discourse of. he approaches the bench as an uninvited and uncomprehended witness. Bamako stages the scandal of their impossible coexistence. beyond—the discourse concerning that system’s governance? We have already begun to address the most immediate effect of this intervention. toward the end of the film. perhaps. even though it cannot be fully understood—also dramatizes the impasse of aesthetic mediation we have been exploring as an immediately ethical and political problem. as Spivak further suggests. The figure in Bamako who most strikingly stages this scandal is the peasant (as Sissako describes him) Zegué Bamba. DVD Interview). and debates about. his expression of the wrong that he has suffered. both from his problematic status within it as an uncalled witness. during this complaint.10 But. For even as the assembled crowd witnesses this astonishing event of an unrecognized speaker “reclaiming the right to speak” (reprendre la parole). and to what effect. having called out from the back of the crowd. Sissako chooses to provide no translation in the court. which is understood. the undecidable position of his speech. in a sequence before the film’s credits. limits and effects of an act of enunciation that would call the structure of the totality itself. It reformulates an impasse at the level of representational form—the failure of mediation we have discussed above—as an ethical and. and no subtitles. For it leads us to turn from a first reading of Bamako--focused primarily on the limits. the scandal of his insistent appearance in that space—a scandal inseparable. political demand. can the complaints of those condemned by the structures of the global system to unrelenting pauperization be heard within—or. by “no more than three” of those present (Sissako. Rather than attempting to mediate between the extremes of this disparity.” to “cry out” with accumulated anger and grief in a different language from those spoken in the courtyard. he begins to “sing. when one of the plaintiff’s advocates provides a summary in her closing argument. but later. into question.9 This decision to withhold an immediate translation foregrounds. global governance into a narrative of local experience—now is presented as an ethical and political imperative: This man’s complaint. indeed. to mediate between the individual or local case and the laws of the totality--to reading the film as a staging of the pragmatic conditions. which he compels those present in court to hear. considered in light of the formal dilemma we have discussed above. and the ambiguous nature of his untranslated (and perhaps ultimately untranslatable) complaint. must be heard within an existing space of juridical and political discourse that has neither a place for it. along with its system of governance.world picture 2 who have no part in the governance of the social whole. in its depiction of a global situation. of any dialectic of representation which might attempt. nor the means to fully comprehend it. as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has suggested in a recent lecture. within the present conjuncture. In other words. For it confronts us with the implicit assertion by one of those forced to participate in the 6 . he is denied the right to speak. ultimately. In his first appearance.

it becomes possible for “the relationship and the nonrelationship to be seen together as the object of dispute” (40). In this first aspect. and which does not—and who is counted as a legitimate political subject. In doing so. of his right to intervene within the discursive space where the process of that governance is formulated and debated. as his singing continues. since they are recognized only as inheritors of debts whose benefits they have never received. a corresponding wave of emotion rise as it passes through the crowd. at this moment. we see. against which it can only assert itself as a virtual community of debtors. For it is not as yet even a part of that whole. But by thus reframing the nonrelationship between the discourse of global governance and the lives of the governed as the site of a demand that cannot be satisfied within the limits of existing political discourse. From the beginning of his complaint. the enunciative act of this singular witness paradoxically produces before us the image of a relationship where there was none—an image through which. it implicitly calls into question the legitimacy of any political theatre that provides no place or time for his intervention. the community on behalf of which he speaks does not yet exist as such. turning down or toward the 7 . only negatively—as those who. nonetheless comes to provisionally express the grievances of society as a whole. eyes closing. This potential collectivity does not appear. just as this witness is defined by them individually. To be sure. which can neither rely on national or international institutions to represent it. the potential members of that community are collectively defined by the reigning institutions of the global system. gazes turn reflectively elsewhere. As the emotional intensity of his lament progressively builds. But that community. And yet the image of this potential collective momentarily emerges as an affective reality in response to the peasant’s appeal. As this witness sings and cries out his complaint. in a series of reaction shots. as both participants in the trial and those who had been more or less casual observers are equally transfixed by the astonishing appearance on the scene of this figure who belongs neither to the juridical world of the court. nor to the familiar local world of the courtyard. and who is not—in contemporary discourses of globalization. count as less than nothing. endowed with nothing more than the authority of its suffering. But the scandal of this witness’s intervention goes beyond the paradox of staging a trial in which the refusal of the reigning authorities to recognize a complainant as a party to the dispute turns out to be the very wrong to be adjudicated. while having no part in its governance. encompassing not only the judges and observers whom he directly addresses. both the proceedings of the trial and the work going on around it come to a halt. to once again borrow Rancière’s language. But. to be sure. A further scandal lies in the fact that. we see each in turn listening as if transfixed. the old man’s intervention is emblematic of a key effect of Bamako considered as an intervention in debates on globalization: that of forcing us to confront the crucial political question of which speech “counts” as political. as the object of a representation of the existing social totality.world picture 2 global system. nor refer to a representable class or party that might incarnate it as a collective body. Indeed. but also those who had been more or less indifferently going about their everyday affairs around it. this complainant. as all eyes are drawn at first to the source of this unexpected interruption. whose intervention has no place in the legitimate forms of political discourse. is nonetheless momentarily called into being by the enunciative act of this uninvited witness.

as if each hears expressed in this anguished irruption of a memory of suffering within the political space of the trial—an event in itself exceptional enough to interrupt both the procedure of the trial and the rhythm of domestic labors—the effects of a whole string of catastrophes he or she has lived in isolation. found echoed in this cry a common memory of wrong.”11 His intervention makes it possible for what might otherwise be lived as a series of private griefs to be expressed as a collective grievance. But it is precisely the isolation of the affective power of his song as such from its signification which permits his performance to intercede between all of the heretofore individual wrongs suffered by those auditors. Not that this witness represents that collective which. insofar as they are the effects of one and the same event: that of the sentence imposed on a global population of debtors by the IMF and the World Bank. as an “intercessor. as if it were the memory of all of these individual sufferings distilled into a single lament—as if those hearing it. both within and outside the discursive space of the trial. has no need to be translated. the longings of the young man dying (very possibly of AIDS) in the isolation of his room. which passes through the collective it calls together in a single wave of grief and indignation. as itself an event in its own right. in relationship to which its meaning and its frame of reference are secondary. still less to rewrite it as an allegory for the social whole. and in the affective overflow of the borders between the juridical world of the trial and the world of everyday life. in other words. and the flood of accumulated anger and grief that it pours forth? Does it express the individual suffering of this man alone? Does it lament the fates of those who have testified before him. but in its power to leap beyond itself: both in its ecstatic movement among the individuals who are drawn by it into the collective experience of grievance it announces. in which what had previously been lived as a series of individual wounds can be experienced as immediately political. as we have seen. also gives rise to the powerful fiction of a possible world. Nor. or those to whose reactions the camera cuts away as he speaks? Does it express the shame and anger of the economic migrant who was forced to leave his companions’ bodies exposed in the desert. Whose fate is being decried or lamented by the voice of this uncalled witness. That is why this prolonged song or cry. nor the relationship between that collective and the space of a 8 . whose solitary suicide on a road outside the collective space of the courtyard seems already to be announced by his mournful song? Sissako’s editing of this sequence invites us to understand that his lament expresses all of these at once. indeed. or the despair of Chaka. Sissako’s strategic withholding of the translation of his discourse invites his various publics to receive his song as it is performed as a pure asignifying affect. He appears here. in terms that might permit his addressees (including his cinematic spectators) to identify with it. to use Deleuze’s term. by placing them momentarily into an indeterminate. but nonetheless intensive. is his own fate represented. does not yet exist as such. any more than one needs to translate the silence that precedes it (DVD interview). relation. Its role is not to represent the relationship between individuals and the emerging collective.world picture 2 distance. But his cry of protest. For the value of this expression of each of these individual griefs as moments of a single affective movement—and the standard according to which it must be “judged”—lies not in its capacity (or failure) to represent each in terms of a global situation. as Sissako remarks.

to unleash a “movement of world” (to use Deleuze’s term) in which each individual is affected by his or her potential relation to the others. outside the institutionally sanctioned space of politics. they are momentarily drawn into a movement toward a new common world that arises out of their relation—a world in which their individual griefs appear as a collective matter. It may thus be taken as one possible verdict on the trial itself. like the cry that sets it in motion. even if it initially appears. Chaka. is all the more powerful in that it comes from one of those non-participants who. her place of work. as we have seen. In response to his call. “… It is. is involuntarily but affectively performed as a sort of testimony given after the trial. as each. as we have seen. insisting that no one would listen to his grievances in any case. Indeed. as though she is aware and wants to show her support for what was said there…. The effect of this intercessor’s cry is.12 This movement. finds its most powerful echo beyond the space of the trial and its political theatre in Melé’s tearful repetition of the song that she sang joyfully at the beginning of the film. comes to echo or resonate with the others. this affective response to the trial. and then finds a powerful echo in Melé’s song. in response to the cry that passes through them all. beyond the circumscribed space of its performance. sung in a domain normally excluded from political debate. the irruption of the suffering of everyday existence within the space of politics would seem to find its counterpart outside the trial: Melé’s song. even if he or she cannot yet be fully understood. declines to say anything further. achieves its most intense expression in the complaint of Zegué Bamba. Nor is it limited to staging the undecidability of those relations (although it is not the least of its merits. This makes it all the more striking that this wave of collective passion. Chaka’s death on the roadside takes place outside the private space of his family (where we have seen him caring for the couple’s daughter). risks being dismissed retrospectively as an ephemeral and ineffectual dream of protest.” (DVD Interview). It thus exemplifies the very anomie Chaka alludes to earlier in the film in his interview with a journalist covering the trial. within the frame of an overarching totality. and which she sings for the second time toward its end. that it does do that as well).” as Sissako observes of this second performance of the song. outside the local collective space of the courtyard. Indeed. which. had previously been indifferent to its theatre. a public performance of a grief whose experience has become interwoven with the political. he is asked by the reporter to repeat his statement for the record. in light of this shocking event. Having argued in a previous interview that the worst effect of structural adjustment policies is the destruction of the social fabric. as Sissako remarks. But Chaka. This suggests that. from which the suicide’s pistol shot might be said to awaken us. with an air of resignation. is not Chaka’s suicide immediately followed by the disappearance of the tribunal from the courtyard? When 9 . “as if she had participated in the trial. Chaka’s suicide would seem to represent the ultimate abandonment of the hope of being heard in the structures governing the current global conjuncture. just as the intervention of Zegué Bamba implicitly affirmed the right of each to be heard.world picture 2 political discourse that excludes it. which. and is expressed. when the trial is over. as Chaka’s statement has accidentally been erased. is broken by the event with which that song is juxtaposed—the suicide of Melé’s husband. Here. and outside the political discourse of the trial. more fundamentally.

as yet undiscovered and unattended. we have returned to a situation analogous to the opening of the film. and its dispersion from the site of contestation. and by the two incompossible worlds which those juxtaposed but divergent events have conjured up before our eyes. where we have lived through the duration of a passage from one to the other. who had so recently been engaged in a theatre of justice. an act which precipitates the disintegration of that same collective. and discover that the participants and observers of the trial have been transformed into a stunned and passive crowd of mourners. then. coexist as memories within the same space. Between the two. but seemingly beyond the limits of sociality. where two noncommunicating worlds are presented side by side within a single space. borne by an ecstatic wave of grief. as between the noncommunicating spheres of the global system. amid the clotheslines and their drying laundry. Falaï. there is the uninvited witness’s act of enunciation. The trial—together with the arguments of the advocates and the testimony of its victims—has perhaps been nothing more than theatre after all. On the other hand. is also there to document its disappearance. there is the act of suicide that takes place. we see this crowd solemnly but quickly disperse. the problem of thinking the relationship between the political realm of the trial and that of everyday experience is thus no longer posed as that of mediating between an “elsewhere” and a “here” that could be represented as spheres or moments of a single global situation. and with it the emergence of the movement of affective attraction that draws together a collective which does not yet exist as such. there is no longer only the abyss of a nonrelation. There is also the potentiality of a passage from one world to another—a potentiality that is lived affectively either as a movement of ecstatic passion that overflows its limits. Two worlds. On the one hand. leaving behind only an empty theatre of sociality. In a sense. has nonetheless briefly emerged on the scene of politics to affirm its political visibility. Rather. perhaps inviting us to consider the consequence of its disappearance from the space where the complaints of everyday existence had found a sufficiently theatrical expression to appear as political contestation. as a solitary man takes up the rugs on which they had been seated. but which. in part through the lens of the diegetic cameraman. who. For this space remains haunted by the two parallel events whose effects have been played out within it. having been on hand to record the collective’s theatrical emergence. been formulated in a new way. we see the chairs from which the judges had presided stacked up.13 In their wake. giving rise to an image of collectivity. At the end of the film. not only outside of the realm of politics. as it trails after the bier bearing the body out of the courtyard. have left this quotidian space which has been returned to its banality. But the problem of how to think their coexistence has. we are called upon to think the passage between the incompossible worlds that appear as coexisting potentialities of a single space 10 . The last shot of the film lingers on the gate out of which the crowd has departed. devoid of collective actors. or as the collapse of that same movement in a catastrophic blockage of communication that depopulates the space of potential collectivity. After a brief prayer. perhaps also to reflect on the possibility of that provisional community’s eventual return. by the end of the film.world picture 2 we return from the road where his body lies. the mourners. For the collective that its dramas had briefly called into existence has evaporated.

Indeed. sets in motion a “movement of world”—confronts us with the question: For what collective. He is currently writing two books. as the virtual community of debtors becomes increasingly visible even within the metropole’s great citadels of international speculation and finance. But the very form of that contestation—an enunciative act which. new collective actors might emerge to respond to its call. not only in Africa and the global South. it is no doubt due in part to the scarcity of collective actors on the global stage able to contest the logic governing the global system as a whole. Memory and Untimeliness in Postmodern Film and The Archive and the Monad: Deleuze and the Resistance to Postmodernism. Scott Durham is Associate Professor of French at Northwestern University. will this place be the provisional center? If. 11 . I think the center of the world is here. but because it is in this space. only become more pressing with the rapid spread of a systemic global crisis. and in new forms. The problem of representing or mapping this new global situation—in which. the collective disappears altogether from the scene of the political. it is not because this place has any special privilege over any other. But. image of that collective--now reverberates with a new intensity. or in relation to the ambiguous place of the film’s uninvited witness. but within the metropole itself. in Slovenia. as the ambiguous conclusion of Bamako reminds us. in the present crisis. the center of the world. the cry of Sissako’s film—with its appeal to a collective that does not yet exist. and under what conditions. as we have seen. this question is as yet largely an open one. It also obliges us to ask in what form. if ephemeral. where he also teaches Comparative Literary Studies. and of what world. that the logic governing the whole world is contested by a part of the world that has no part in its governance. “I think the center of the world is everywhere. for the duration of a trial. But this question has. “When I'm in Izola. while in the second. either in relation to this new global situation considered as a whole. In the first. meanwhile. lays claim to a new form of appearance which reimagines the relation of the political to what had heretofore been excluded from it. by calling the virtual collective it addresses into being. as this crisis unfolds. in affirming its own existence. with the economic collapse of Iceland. for the time of this event. He is the author of Phantom Communities: The Simulacrum and the Limits of Postmodernism (Stanford University Press) and the editor of a Yale French Studies issue on Jean Genet. whose cry reverberates within and beyond its fictive theatre of justice. which have complacently flattered themselves that they governed from the world system’s stable and immovable center.world picture 2 immediately before us. Sissako’s film does not only lead us to reflect on how Bamako’s various publics might map their own respective places. the collective.” remarked Sissako during a visit to Izola.”14 If a courtyard in Bamako becomes. together with its creation of an affective. with the working titles Eurydice’s Gaze: Historicity. Notes 1 This quote is from the interview appearing on the DVD released by New Yorker Video (2008) (hereafter referred to parenthetically in the text as “DVD Interview”). the reach of the IMF’s policies of structural adjustment extends from the global South to the Arctic Circle—will undoubtedly be posed anew.

La Mésentente: Politique et Philosophie (Paris: Galilée. The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. as for any African film. these virtues include an implicit rejection of any notion that an uncritical affirmation of the “traditional” or “local” might be an adequate response to multinational globalization. W. 1-24). they are inseparable from her mistreatment as a woman by the patriarchal establishment of the town. 8 Given the film’s biting portrayal of the gender and political relations that existed in the town before its complete assimilation into the global system.. see Sissako’s interview with Ali Jaafar.) This situation. pp. 1999. “Finding Our Own Voices. which connived at this injustice. is itself partly attributable to cultural policies imposed as a result of “structural adjustment. 5 As Sissako says of Bamako’s own distribution in the interview on the New Yorker Video DVD. 1992). Globalization and its Discontents (New York and London: W. among other texts. 2008. 3 See Jacques Rancière.. in three questions: “‘Why don’t I sow anymore? When I sow. 12 . “Mambéty’s Hyenas: Between Anti-Colonialism and the Critique of Modernity” Iris 18 (1995). considered in a broader context. 2003). 1981).) Parenthetical references in the text will be to the English translation. “Rethinking Comparativism.” (I have modified the translation given in the subtitles. “ in Sight and Sound. who deserted her and their child for a then wealthier woman. “Unfortunately. see Fredric Jameson. in a further development of questions raised in her Death of a Discipline (New York: Columbia University Press. see Richard Porton.’” For his remarks cited above. 4 On transcoding. Stiglitz. Norton. “Crossing Borders” (pp.. 10 Spivak’s lecture. ] So today the visibility of the film in Africa will be a difficult matter….world picture 2 2 Sissako’s text appears in the booklet accompanying the DVD released by New Yorker Video (2008) along with other short texts by other African intellectuals and representatives of civil society critical of the policies imposed by the so-called “Washington Consensus.17 no. discussed Bamako. 2. 1995). 7 Most immediately. because the distribution networks that once existed on this continent are dead [. which lasts for three minutes in the film (but which Sissako says was itself cut down from twenty minutes of improvised performance). The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. February 2007. why don’t I eat. 2002). 9 She summarizes his lament.” delivered at Northwestern University March 8. which foregrounds Mambéty’s refusal of any “essentialism” or simplistic “binarism” (98). Dramaan Drameh.3031. On this point.” For an extended critique of those policies from an insider’s perspective. see Fredric Jameson. why don’t I reap? When I reap. the question of the distribution of this film is a difficult question.” 6 For a discussion of a number of permutations of this problem. but. especially those raised on translation in the first chapter of that book. v. he goes on to argue. 40. see Joseph E. translated in English by Julie Rose as Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. the origin of those grievances may be traced back to the injustice inflicted on her by her former lover.

to assist the other by intervening in the other’s world and producing creative interference [….world picture 2 11 On the concept of the “intercessor” [intercesseur] in Deleuze’s thought. provides the point of passage from the actual to the virtual. which perhaps find their supreme development in the musical comedy. It is translated in English as Negotiations: 1972-1990. of course. one might add. a depersonalizing…. hidden possible worlds that are expressed in the affective signs of the other”. 13 Falaï. be seen as a stand-in for the filmmaker himself.” in order to disclose “the undetermined.” See Ronald Bogue.” 13 . may in part. p. 1995). from walking to dance in an ordinary street. 58-64. 82-83). “simply to advocate for the other. like the improbable movement. which. 80). French p. aesthetic and political dimensions: it is linked to the ethical imperative “to affect and be affected” by the other. and. 13-14. 80-87. 2007). 165-184. in this everyday space. the appearance of this uninvited witness within it. as in an “implied dream. Here. “to suspend. from the utopian dimension of the musical as a form. 59. According to Deleuze. to the aesthetic aim of mobilizing “powers of the false” in order to produce new forms of truth.” (English trans. This becoming-collective of the virtual powers mobilized by the dream. but become visible in a virtual movement of the world surrounding that character. for example. in the name of a “people to come.) The role of the intercessor in Deleuze’s thought is not to represent or exemplify. 1985). this concept in Deleuze has at once ethical. if often only implicit. it is the improbable event of the trial itself. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. despite being forbidden to do so. the experience of a virtual community. 14 “Abderrahmane Sissako explains Bamako. which thereby take on a collective dimension: “There takes place a kind of “worldizing” [mondialisation] or “societizing” [mondianisation]. bears an undeniable. the categorization and comprehension of the other.” “but also to ‘go between’ (Latin: inter+cedere). no less than the “world” of a musical number. 121-134 (where “intercesseur” is translated as “mediator. In Bamako. such movements of world. we are not transported into anything like the dream-world of an “enchanted proletariat” (as Deleuze says of the world of Busby Berkeley) (60.” despite the latter’s rather un-Deleuzian dialectical overtones. 1991). political charge: it is indissociable.” at least for the duration of that performance. see Pourparlers 1972-1990 (Paris: Minuit. of strangeness or enchantment” in which the virtual potentialities unactualized in a situation (potentialities paradoxically disclosed by the blockage of a character’s immediate possibilities of acting upon that situation) are no longer attributed to the dream of an individual subject or character. depersonalize the powers called up by the dream. Cinéma 2: L’image-temps (Paris: Minuit. as much as one can. and thereby give expression to its heretofore nonexistent world--expresses. of course. for which those previously private sufferings have been “worldized. of waking dream. Vermont: Ashgate. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. nor is it. 12 Deleuze’s notion of movements of world develops out of his discussion of “states of reverie. by Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press. trans. England and Burlington. as Ronald Bogue observes. But Zegué Bamba’s performance--which draws previously individual griefs into an ecstatic movement passing through an emergent collective. by way of contrast.” (See Cinema 2: The Time-Image. in his attempts to film both lines of action in the courtyard throughout the film. and to the political imperative to give expression to unactualized potentialities immanent in the social field.]” As Bogue points out. in the musical. above all. 1990). Deleuze’s Way: Essays in Transverse Ethics and Aesthetics (Aldershot.

org/2007/en/node/1961. 14 .isolacinema.world picture 2 http://www.

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